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ALA’s most challenged books includes ‘Twilight’ at No. 5!

April 14, 2010

Another excuse to mention the most popular novelist in the mediaverse.

Stephenie Meyer has  a new distinction today, courtesy the American Library Association: Her inexplicably popular ‘Twilight’ series of Young Adult vampire novels joins gay penguins, Holden Caulfield, and The Color Purple in the Top Ten list of books most challenged in American libraries.

Is it just me, or do these lists seem to come out whenever the ALA needs a boost of publicity? I mean, why now? Isn’t Banned Books Week in September?

And while the Associated Press story being reprinted everywhere cites “an annual report of ‘challenged books’ released Wednesday by the American Library Association,” I can find no such report — no press release on the Internet, no announcement or document on the ALA’s own website.

What’s more, a few years ago, ALA pronouncements about banned books included challenges from the left — sexism, racism, the “N” word and like that. Nowadays, as in the AP story, it’s implied that challenges are coming from snake-handling backwoods Fundamentalists too dim to notice that Meyer’s vampires take a vow of chastity and don’t have sex until after marriage.

Come to think of it, the ridiculousness of that last statement (chaste vampires? what’s the point?!) makes me wonder if the Christian challenges to Meyer’s books arise not from their content, but from the assumption that witchcraft is the only explanation for why her novels are so phenomenally popular.

Sorry, I don’t mean to be disagreeable this morning, but my finally honed reporter’s instincts detect a whiff of PR manipulation about this whole thing. Consider this statement from the AP story: “For every challenge tallied, about four or five end up unreported, according to the ALA.”

Um — how do they know? The figure of “four or five” unreported challenges seems conjured out of thin air, doesn’t it?

Ah, well. I do admire the ALA and its work defending our freedom to read whatever we want. Librarians not only shelve books and levy overdue fines, they also defend our freedom to read from incursions by religious groups, special interests and Homeland Security snoops.

So, taking today’s news at face value: Meyer’s vampire novels come in at No. 5 on the ALA list. No. 1: Lauren Myracle’s “IM” series of novels told through instant messaging, featuring nudity, bad words and drug use. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, a children’s book about gay penguins adopting a child, fell to No. 2. It topped last year’s list.

No 3: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Peter Chbosky, drew attention for drug use, suicide and homosexuality. Also in the Top Ten were such classics as J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (it’s kind of endearing how the “F-word” can still get people riled up); The Color Purple, by Alice Walker; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (for sentimentality?!); and The Chocolate War, by Richard Cormier.

The good news in the report: A significant drop in the number of challenges nationwide, from 513 in 2008 to 460 last year. Considering there are 122,566 libraries in the U.S., I’d say that means book challenges aren’t a significant threat to the freedom to read.

While I hope librarians continue to resist such challenges, I think the greater danger to libraries and the essential functions they serve (yes, even in the digital age) arises from the lousy economy and cutbacks in funding. What good is a library if the doors are locked when you have the time to go there?

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice permalink
    April 14, 2010 4:06 pm

    You are so effing funny, Chauncey Mabe. Believe me, I understand PR manipulation as well as the next guy. Very sneaky though, ALA. Meyer will also sell more books now–any publicity is good publicity.

    Still, hats off to the American Library Association. Our quality of life would certainly suffer if not for you!

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 14, 2010 6:41 pm

    My feeling exactly. Although as a reporter, I do resent having my strings pulled. But I’ll get over it. Definitely before my next trip to the library…

    • Candice permalink
      April 14, 2010 9:06 pm

      Believe me, Chauncey Mabe, it’s hard to pull reporter’s string. I go for the soft sale, but sneaky. Sorry but tis the way of the world. Advertising is good, but when you work on a shoe string budget, you have to find a way to get your cause, product, whatever, into a real newspaper article. Plus, it gets more attention that way. Sometimes making those things newsworthy takes a lot of thought (and manipulation).

  3. boneislandbooks permalink
    April 14, 2010 6:48 pm

    This week is National Library Week (here in the Keys we’re celebrating with a two-week Food for Fines waiver) — not to be confused with National Library Day or Banned Books Week. I’m a card carrying member of ALA and I must admit they dream up more holidays than Hallmark. But it is kind of fun to put Meyer on the same list as And Tango Makes Three …

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 14, 2010 7:21 pm

    I know I had fun with the whole thing. I hope the ALA keeps up the good work, even if it is more than a little self-dramatizing about the whole thing. While I’ve mocked the ALA today, I have nothing but respect for librarians. And I hope every single one in this great free land of ours keeps to keep his or her job.

  5. Candice permalink
    April 14, 2010 9:08 pm

    Me too. And give the PR people a break. At least its for a good cause….

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 15, 2010 10:00 am

      I like to think I gave credit where due, but otherwise I call ’em like I see ’em.

      • Candice permalink
        April 15, 2010 1:01 pm

        So harsh, Chauncey Mabe.

  6. Holly permalink
    April 14, 2010 11:08 pm

    The last line of your post resonates. I work full-time and the hours that get cut are often after 5 pm, which is exactly when I want to go to the library and browse. Sad. 😦

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 15, 2010 10:01 am

      Education, libraries and other cultural resources seem to be the first cut in hard times. I submit they should be the last. Starving the soul is not the way to inspire hope in the populace.

  7. Amy Rubinson permalink
    April 14, 2010 11:31 pm

    really Twilight has expanded beyond the hormonal girls and into the professional world????

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 15, 2010 10:02 am

      So it would seem. At least as a promotional tool.

  8. John Karwacki permalink
    April 15, 2010 7:30 am

    What I want to know is who could possible have a problem with gay penguins? I mean those cute little tuxedoes, such a fahion sense…

  9. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 15, 2010 10:04 am

    Just as cats are girls and dogs are boys, perhaps all penguins are gay….

  10. April 15, 2010 12:27 pm

    Wish my books were banned. I’m thinking of hiring some fundamentalist fakers to pile up my novels, pour gas on them, light them on fire and march around with placards saying BRENNA’S BOOKS WERE WRITTEN BY THE DEVIL!!!! Got to make sure I get a reporter there and with luck a TV camera crew. Think it’ll work, Chauncey?

  11. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 15, 2010 5:01 pm

    Duff, I think all you have to do is get some upstanding Christian to actually read one of your novels. I’m pretty sure the experience will leave his or her hair standing on end. Damnation, boycott and yummy publicity sure to follow. Want me to get Donald Wildmon’s address for ya?

  12. Connie permalink
    April 15, 2010 6:44 pm

    My browser has finally allowed me to read this post! Hurray! Hey, I thought the vampires in “Twilight” WERE chaste (at least until – SPOILER ALERT – Bella and Edward get married). But maybe I’m wrong.

    The parents I know who object to these books are all moms who are horrified to think their daughters will get the message that it’s totally cool to let your manipulative, obsessive, stalkery boyfriend dictate how you should run your life. I tell them we all played with Barbie when we were little and it doesn’t seem to have harmed any of us.

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