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Is the bogus crisis of ‘Banned Books Week’ over yet? What? It’s only Wednesday?!?

September 28, 2011

Michael Moore: Won't someone please ban my book?

Please don’t get the idea I’m in favor of censorship or book burning, but you will have to forgive me if I do not join in the annual orgy of elitist self-congratulation known as “Banned Books Week.”

Which, yes, is downright peculiar, since as a book reviewer and arts writer for more than two decades I could be the poster boy for elitism, and quite smug about it, too. But I also pride myself on a low tolerance for hype, backslapping, and opportunistic public relations. And that’s what 94 percent of Banned Books Week consists of (I just got the test results back from the la-BOHR-a-tory).

Did I say I despise a bandwagon jumper, too? Well, I do, and it’s hard to find a journalist, bookseller, author, publisher, newspaper, magazine, critic or librarian who does not leap without looking upon the Banned Books bandwagon each September.

Writing about book banning allows the journalist or critic the same self-righteous pleasures that warning of the evils of  meat-eating confers upon the vegetarian. Consider: “Risky Reads! Five Books That Have Been Banned,” msnbc.com; “Top Ten Banned or Challenged Books of 2010,” Huffington Post. Even the Brits get into the act: “Library highlights censorship with ‘banned’ book season,” walesonline.co.uk.

For a list of upcoming activities at the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, visit the center’s website. And mark your calendar: This year’s Miami Book Fair International runs Nov. 13-20.

Why, you’d think books are being snatched out of the hands of weeping children willy-nilly all over this land, an impression reinforced by Molly Raphael, president of the American Library Association, who writes ominously, “[F]ar more often than we may realize individuals and groups have sought to restrict access to library books they believed were objectionable on religious, moral, or political grounds, thereby restricting the rights of every reader in their community.”

To which I say, a) No, thanks to you we can hardly read, think, or talk about anything else this week (good job!), and b) what’s wrong with that? By which I mean, when someone, however misguided, seeks to ban or restrict a book he or she believes is harmful to children, is that concerned citizen doing anything other than participating in the democratic life of our society?

Consider, the very first example in the Huffington Post article, “Banned or Challenged Classic Children’s Books,” which happens to be Madeliene L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which was “challenged in 1996, but retained by the Catawba County School Board in Newton, North Carolina.”

Let’s think about that for a minute: Is that an example of rampant religious fascism? Oooh! The bogeyman! Or is it a happy example of a democratic system working the way it is intended to? After all, the book was challenged, but the challenge failed. Proud to be American!

Please don’t get met wrong. I love libraries and librarians. The freedom to read whatever I want without restriction or oversight is among the most precious liberties I personally exercise on a daily basis. (That is, freedom from government oversight; the omniscience of Lord Google is another thing entirely).

But really, instead of joining the sanctimonious Banned Books clamor (rabble-rabble!), let’s see if we can figure out just how big a problem the banning of books really is: According to the Banned Books Week website, there were “at least 348” book challenges in schools and libraries in 2010. There’s a map of the United States, slightly larger than a postage stamp (ask your Mom), with 348 blue tags crowded into it.

The map makes it look — oh my God! — like an epidemic of censorship and yee-hawism is sweeping the Republic. But consider: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 14,000 school districts in the United States. I think we can assume each one has multiple libraries.

So, help me here, math was never my strong suit, but 348 book challenges in 14,000 (fourteen thousand!) school districts: Does that equal an epidemic of censorship and intolerance, or its opposite — a Golden Age of tolerance, liberty, freedom to read, and access to books?

If I ever should have the privilege of writing a book for children or young adults, I PRAY TO GOD that some rural Georgian religious fanatic with mismatched eyes or windburnt Kansan prairie wife who’s never actually read a book herself or Orange County home schooler fresh from the beauty salon, attempts to ban it.

Because here’s what book banning really amounts to in 2011 in these United States: The greatest publicity boon a writer can ever receive.

Indeed, the publicity value is so enormous that Michael Moore, the clown prince of, uh, clownishness, has banned his own book, Here Comes Trouble, in Georgia — where, let’s face it, a memoir by the obese leftist documentarian probably was going to sell — what? Eight, nine copies?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2011 9:04 pm

    I can’t help it, Chauncey. I’ve always wanted some rightwing org or church to ban my books, build a bonfire and burn them and wave the cross and tell the world how full of smut they are. Let that get on TV and my future is made. Hah!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 30, 2011 11:17 am

      I sympathize, Duff, but it’s so hard to know these days what will give offense to the republic’s bluenoses. I’m thinking witchcraft maybe, or anything that suggests teenagers think about sex (!), rather that than outright smut. I mean, Nicholson Baker has just issued a novel called House of Holes that is about exactly what its title implies, and yet I’ve heard nary a word of puritanical outrage. Sad.

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