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