Sunday, September 5, 2010

A simple proposition

I'm jumping ahead of Banned Books Week because there's a movement online that I hope you'll join. Officially, the week runs Sept. 25-Oct. 2 this year, but a number of people are signing up to read as many banned/challenged books as they can and post about them this month. I think of it as a show of solidarity with the authors and their creations. So I'm in.
For anyone new to Banned Books Week, it's sponsored by the American Library Association and several other organizations to raise awareness of books which have been banned or challenged. A challenge is an attempt by a person or group to remove or restrict a book from a library.
While I have no problem with someone deciding a book is not something they want to read or want their kids to read, I don't believe they have any right to force their beliefs on other people. In fact, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and press. We should all be able to hear other people's ideas, to discuss and agree or disagree but not to gag them.
In case you think this only happens rarely or to little-known authors of questionable material, here is a partial list of authors who have been frequently challenged in the last decade: J. K. Rowling, John Steinbeck, Judy Blume, Maya Angelou, Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Toni Morrison, Lois Lowry, Maurice Sendak, Philip Pullman.
If you're like me, you will be gobsmacked when you read the list of classics that face challenges. I mean, Winnie-the-Pooh, Schindler's List, Catch-22, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Clockwork Orange, A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy??? The list goes on. The association also lists contemporary books attacked by year, by author and by decade. Again, unbelievable what's on those lists.
Here's one anecdote that made me furious. Four men sued for $30,000 a piece from a public library in Wisconsin for displaying Francesca Lia Block's BABY BE-BOP. Plus, they demanded the book be publicly burned. Huh? What country is this? What century? I'm glad to report the library board did not remove or restrict access to the book. Have you read it? It's wonderfully bizarre, gritty, funny, sad, heart-felt story of young people in L.A. and, well, one of them is gay. I loved it and never would imagine anyone wanting to burn it.
Another incident involved parents objecting to Sherman Alexie's THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN as vulgar and racist. Again, huh??? If ever there was a writer who opens wide the door between Native Americans and the rest of society, it's Mr. Alexie. This is a partly autobiographical story of a handicapped boy who uses humor and art to cope with hopelessness and poverty. It swept me away with its authentic voice, wit and poignancy.
So I'm pulling together a short list of books and signing up for Steph Su's banned books reading challenge. So far, I know I'm reading FEED by M.T. Anderson, which is in my TBR stack, and I plan to re-read JULIE OF THE WOLVES, because I was stunned that Newbery Medal winner was ever challenged. Last year, I re-read THE HANDMAID'S TALE, one of my all-time favorite books (my review here). I'm not sure what others I'll read this month, but there will be more and I will post my thoughts about them. (Just added. I've decided to read Laurie Halse Anderson's TWISTED and T. Coraghessan Boyle's THE TORTILLA CURTAIN)
Please consider doing something, too. Or let me know in the comments of any other events going on.


Jade said...

Wow. I don't think we ever have major issues with books being banned down here. In fact, a lot of those books are in the English curriculum. But then, I don't think censorship is as bad down here.

It's certainly an eye opener!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I love Banned Books Week! Last year on my blog I gave away a banned PB, "And Tango Makes Three." My children were shocked to discover it was a banned book. Hello, it's a true story and totally awesome!! I'm proud to say we've read plenty of banned books in this house and we'll be reading plenty more :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

The idea of banning books just ticks me off. I'm totally up for this challenge!

And BTW- I loved The Handmaid's Tale. It's my favorite SciFi book!

A side note to Jade: Many of the books on the list are on American curriculum guides too. But people still want to ban them in certain states.

Claire Dawn said...

I'm always amused at the reasons people come up with for stuff.

Any book that deals with racism, promotes it.
Any book that mentions witchcraft, advocates it.
Any book with teenage sex, pulls apart the moral fabric of our society.

If some people had their way it would be illegal to watch the news!

Talli Roland said...

What a great challenge! I love it!

I can't believe some of the books that have been banned over the years. Crazy stuff.

The Words Crafter said...

Hmmmm. I will have to come back and see your list and pick a few from it. And I think I'll join up, too. I had no idea those books you listed/posted had ever been challenged.

See, I have my own beliefs but I'm a live and let choose kind of person. I agree with you; we're all entitled to our opinions and beliefs. We DO NOT have the right to try to force those things on other people. Often, those wishing to ban a book are narrow-minded, power hungry, insecure people. And I'm trying to be nice here. I'm writing a note to myself to return for the whole list. Amazing *shaking head*

Jemi Fraser said...

I always discuss banned book week with my students. (Our week in Canada is different. I think it's in February.) Banning books drives me nuts! I often read The Giver with the kids - and it blows their minds that some people think it should be banned. Me too. :)

Bish Denham said...

I'm always shocked by the books that are challenged or banned. I'll have to look at the list, see if there are any I can read.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jade: I hope you don't have as much censorship. A lot of these books are on school reading lists and that's why some parents or, often church organizations, demand they be removed.

Sherrie: I like your house! And what a great idea to do a give-away of a banned book. Everything we do to raise consciousness helps.

Stephanie: Yay! I'm so glad you're joining in. We can spread the word wide about specific books and what makes them special.

Claire: That was an amazing comment. You have a knack for getting to the heart of issues. Thank you.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Words Crafter: Oh, I hope you do join in. The complete lists can be found through the links to ALA banned book week. They have a sidebar with it broken down into decades. Also, Steph Su put up links to resources.
If each of us highlights different books, we'll show how wide this net is cast.

Jemi: Yay, you! I'm so glad you do that. The first time I heard that The Giver was on the challenged list, I nearly fell over.

Bish: Oh, I'd love to have you join in. I know you'd have some pithy things to say!

Yat-Yee said...

I am signed up as well. I don't know yet what I'll read, but M. T. Anderson's Feed is one I am considering. And a belated thanks for recommending The Handmaid's Tale. It's one that has really affected me.

Claire: I agree with Tricia. Your comments really get to the heart of the matter.

Barrie said...

This is a great idea, Tricia. Thank you for all the links.

Donna said...

I will definitely check that out. The idea of book burning in this country, this century, is horrifying. I suspect that many of the books I love have been banned by somebody.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Yat-Yee: I'm so glad you read The Handmaid's Tale. That is such an incredible book. Here's to us promoting more of them!

Barrie: Hi and you're most welcome!

Donna: Any books that cause the reader to think, to question, to imagine seem to be targets, and those are my favorites, too.

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Great idea! I don't review books on my blog - but thanks to you - I now plan to write a post about banned books this month.

Franklin Beaumont said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention Tricia. I also can't believe some of the books that have been attacked, and recently too. "To Kill A Mockingbird" is among the first books I'd give a young person to read! The truth is not obscene.

Liza said...

Closed-mindedness is a critical disease. Thank you for this info.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Megan: Hi and welcome and I'm so glad you may do something on banned books. It's so important to alert people.

Franklin: What a great comment! The truth is certainly not obscene.

Liza: Yes, it does seem to spread. What's disturbing is so often these offended people react on second-hand information. They never read the book at all.

Natalie said...

I love so many of the books you mentioned. The Absolutely True Diary is one of my favorites. I need to pick one out to read this year.

Ed Pilolla said...

it's a fascinating subject, banned books. i actually think the books the power establishment is really scared of will never make these lists becuz these lists get publicized. the crazy groups that want to ban books are so counter-productive to their causes because of the publicity they generate.
the truly dangerous books, like the ones noam chomsky writes, for example, will never outright be banned but rather quietly ignored, seems to me.

Sarah Wylie said...

I'm reading FEED right now. So many wonderful authors in that Frequently Challenged list. Clicking over to Steph Su's website!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Natalie: I love Sherman Alexie's books. I had the good fortune of covering one of his speeches when he was relatively new to the scene. He is funny and smart, a really amazing speaker.

Ed: I think you're right that the would-be 'banners' wind up sending more people go buy the books than they keep away.

Sarah: I'm loving FEED, laughing my head off sometimes. It is brilliant.

Suzanne Casamento said...

Great post. Thank you for writing so thoroughly and thoughtfully about book banning. I've read many of the books you mentioned and loved them all.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Thank you for stopping by my place . . .

It always amazes me how individual people want to push their will onto the people as a whole *sigh*

Anaya said...

I'm a huge fan of Sherman Alexie, both in his writing itself and his larger social message. Glad you mentioned him. I know he'd attracted a bit of controversy, but didn't know that he had actually become a target of the book banners.

As a side note, it seems that often these attempts to suppress books only bring more attention, generally positive, to the works. I'm definitely more apt to want to read a book if I hear its been banned or challenged-ironically its a great point of recommendation for me! It begs the question of what these people are really trying to accomplish here...

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Suzanne: I guess I will never understand what causes someone to want to ban a book, so I'll keep speaking up for those books as long as I can. Yes, some ideas can be disturbing or even dangerous, but we're better off discussing them and why we disagree.

Kathryn: I, too, am stunned by it.

Anaya: He's such an amazing writer and speaker. People's lives would be enriched reading his stories.
I don't think the people who try to ban books really give a lot of thought to anything beyond their narrow band of belief.

sybcalif said...

I'm proud to report that I teach several banned books, including Fahrenheit 451 (you know I'm a huge Ray Bradbury fan), Native Son, and Huck Finn. I introduce satire with a piece from The Onion called "Nation's Teens Disappointed by Banned Books." Totally skewers book banners through the eyes of teens, who expected sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll in banned books and were disappointed when they didn't find them.