Banned books week starts Saturday
Freedom of expression only starts with the right of authors to create whatever stories their talent and imagination dictates. It ends with your right to read anything you choose, unfettered by government, moralists or the guardians of either religious or political correctness. Who stands at the front line? Librarians.
Banned Books Week, an annual awareness campaign sponsored by the American Library Association and other groups, starts Saturday and runs through Oct. 3. Since 1982, BBW has stressed “the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.”
In the United States, most challenges against individual books take place in school libraries, and, to a lesser extent, public libraries and bookstores.
For example, a school district in Oklahoma canceled a visit by Ellen Hopkins, a young adult novelist, after only one parent complain against her best-selling book, Crank and Glass, loosely based on her own daughter’s addiction to methamphetamine, according to the Guardian.
“No one person should have that kind of power,” Hopkins said. “No person should be able to choose what anyone else’s child can or can’t read, let alone who they can see speak to. Some of the kids were devastated.”
According to the American Library Association, there were 513 challenges to books reported in 2008, up from 420 the previous year.
The ALA’s top ten list of most frequently challenged books for 2008 includes Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel, The Kite Runner; Philip Pullman’s enduringly popular fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials; and the YA pop novel, Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar.
The single most challenged book, however, was And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole, about two male penguins who form a bond and are given an egg to raise. It’s based on a true story that happened at the Central Park Zoo in New York.
Over the years many beloved classic books have been challenged, too, and not only racy titles like James Joyce’s Ulyssess or Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, but also: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck; 1984, by George Orwell; In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote.
And The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein –a Christian allegory–was not merely challenged but burned outside a church in New Mexico in 2001, along with other Tolkein books, on the grounds of “satanic” content.
Since the beginning of this century, reports the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, sexually explicit content has been the leading cause of book challenges. Books have also been challenged for offensive language, for being deemed unsuited to a particular age group, for violence, homosexuality, “anti-family” content, or religious viewpoint.
As a father of three daughters — now all grown and, miraculously, still readers — I agree that children are best shielded from books not appropriate for their ages. But it’s my job as a parent to make those decisions, not some school board, church, political organization, and certainly not some other parent.
The unsung heroes of the battle for intellectual freed are librarians, almost always first to resist efforts to ban or restrict books. So if you do nothing else in the coming week, thank a librarian.