Banned Books Week

4 Oct

I realize that I am late getting on the bandwagon with this post, but I wanted to do my part in “celebrating” the annual “Banned Books Week” (Sept 25 – Oct 2, 2010).

Being Roman Catholic, I come from a tradition that in the past published an “Index of Prohibited Books” from the mid 16th century through 1966, just after the Vatican II council. I am just old enough to remember growing up in a church that strove to protect its members from literature that, in its judgment, might endanger their faith and morals, or that might contain some kind of theological error. I also grew up in a small town in the Panhandle of Texas called Borger, where Catholics were certainly in the minority. This was deep in the heart of the Bible Belt. Around the very time that the Vatican dropped its “Index,” or shortly thereafter, I vividly remember scenes of fundamentalist Baptists and other Christian churches holding rallies in order to burn albums by the Beatles. (This happened right after John Lennon so famously proclaimed during a TV news conference that the Beatles were becoming more popular than Jesus. And, of course, this was simply a matter of fact that most anyone could observe for themselves.) So I have firsthand knowledge of the kind of mentality that drives fundamentalists and cultural conservatives who favor censorship with the hopes of saving people from being tainted by “certain kinds of thinking.”

From my point of  view, as an approach, the banning of books is not only patronizing but even counter-productive. As a theology teacher and educator of both youth and adults for the past 30 years, I have always stressed the importance of intellectual freedom and believed in the fostering of critical thinking as the central aim of  the whole educational enterprise. And this includes religious education. The whole idea of banning books, to me, flies in the face of these important values. Thus, as a concerned parent and a religious educator, not to mention being an avid reader myself, I have a strong interest in this topic.

I would urge you to look take a moment to look at the banned books that are published annually by the American Library Association. (You will find a link to do this, along with some other interesting links below.) If you have never done so before, you might well be surprised at how many of the great classics of literature that you have grown up believing are a necessary part of the educational canon have been under attack over these last few decades.

To whet your appetite, here is a short list of books that I have compiled that are frequently attacked:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – banned for language and racism

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm – banned for excessive violence, negative potrayals of females

The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank) – banned for sexually offensive language

Wrinkle in Time – banned for promoting witchcraft, crystal balls and demons

Tarzan of the Apes – banned because he was “living in sin with Jane”

Sleeping Beauty – yes, this fairy tale has been banned for promoting magic and witchcraft

Little Red Riding Hood – this fairy tale banned for “condoning the use of alcohol” (one of the things in her basket was wine in the original version by the Brothers Grimm)

Canterbury Tales – banned as “lewd and inappropriate” (well, okay, you have to admit that there is quite a bit of lewd behavior in this biting satire…BUT…if it is to be argued that this should be banned, shouldn’t it be on stronger grounds, such as the fact that many English teachers make their students memorize whole chapters from this in the style of “Old English”?!?!?!)

Death of a Salesman – a school board in Kentucky declared it “junk” and banned it from their school

The Grapes of Wrath – banned for “vulgar language”

Of Mice and Men – both Tennessee and Ohio declared it a “filthy book”

A Light in the Attic – this humorous children’s book by Silverstein has been attacked because it is said to encourage kids to be disobedient and “to break dishes”

Farenheit 451 – banned for discussing censorship and book burning (now that’s irony!)

Brave New World – banned for being “anti-family” and “anti-Christian”

1984 – banned for being communist and its sexual themes (isn’t it ironic that a central theme of this book would be “thought control”?)

A Clockwork Orange – banned for “objectionable” language

Catcher in the Rye – banned because it “undermined morality” and was “blasphemous”

To Kill A Mockingbird – banned for profanity and racial slurs

Diary of a Young Girl – banned because of “sexually explicit language” and, I kid you not here, on the grounds that it is “a real downer” (is it possible that revisionist Holocaust denier historians would simply wish that this book by Ann Franke would go away?)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – banned for racist language (oh the irony!)

The Lorax – this Dr. Seuss book (which I, frankly, had never heard of but now wish I had read it to my kids when they were younger!) was attacked because it “criminalizes the forest industry”

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – this important historical work chronicling the injustices inflicted on Native Americans by the U.S. government has been attacked as “too slanted” (which is interesting considering that most of the history texts used in primary and secondary schools still talk about Columbus “discovering” America!)

Oh, the list sadly goes on and on and on!!! Now, am I the only one who thinks that most of these books are targets more for their uncomfortable politics than for the “red herrings” that constitute  the stated reasons?

Here are some important links to help you dig more deeply into the books that have been and currently are being targeted:

The Top 100 banned / challenged books over this past decade (from the American Library Association): http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/2000_2009/index.cfm

An alphabetical listing of banned and challenged books by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. If you click one of the books, it will also take you to another page containing additional background concerning the grounds for which each of the books have been attacked.: http://www.abffe.com/bbw-booklist.htm

Another helpful list of books with descriptions of the grounds for which they are banned is provided by the organization Delete Censorship (note that this link opens as a pdf file): http://www.deletecensorship.org/downloads/booklist_hpb.pdf

Please comment! Here are some questions that might help guide our discussion:

  • What are your thoughts concerning the practice of censorship?
  • As you look at the larger lists of banned / challenged books,are there any books that surprise you?
  • What are some of your favorite books that have made the list? Do have any idea as to why they were put there?
  • How do you think we should go about protecting our children from inappropriate literature? How do we decide where and when to “draw the line” to protect our young?

I’m looking forward to the discussion on this! Just for fun, I thought I would close by sharing with you a short, humorous educational video I found. Enjoy!

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2 Responses to “Banned Books Week”

  1. cindi October 4, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    Of your short list, only “A Clockwork Orange” is disturbing by my standards! So much of the controversy could be avoided if parents and teachers simply expose young people to age-appropriate literature, and are open to discussions as a young person begins pushing the boundaries of what they want to read.

    These days, though, the surreptitious accumulation of questionable reading materials that marked my adolescence doesn’t seem to be a problem. Seems rare these days that younger folks want to read much of anything! And if we’re debating between encouraging reading and exercising control over what is read, I’d err more towards the former than the latter.

  2. Peggy C October 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    I am sooo grateful that God is not controlling! Praise God!!!!

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