Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Censorship

by Chasya

A few days ago EW’s Shelf Life blog linked to the just released American Library Association’s list of top ten books most frequently challenged in 2009. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the list, their site explains that frequently challenged books are those that are formally, through written request, asked to be removed from a library’s bookshelf for inappropriate content.

I looked at the list for 2009 along with the 100 most frequently challenged books of the decade in astonishment. The 2009 list includes most notably, as EW points out, the Twilight series. It takes me back a while. In school we learned that The Catcher in the Rye was at one time censored, and I remember feeling incensed by the notion and proud that those days of narrow-minded censorship were over. But lo and behold, there, staring back at me at #6, was the 1951 Salinger classic. I was aghast to see other titles that shaped and influenced me in my youth on the list: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (#3) and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (#4). The list of 100 Banned/Challenged books were equally as shocking and included an all time favorite, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (#90). It was just one among many, many others that I had read and loved as a child. And what was at #1 on the list of 100, you ask? Why it’s the one and only Harry Potter series—a contemporary classic that pretty much introduced a new generation to reading, period. Among the quibbles that they are arguing make the books on the list unsuitable are topics such as Satanism, objectionable religious viewpoints, offensive language and homosexuality. While I will say that it’s true that a book should be age appropriate, and that parents of young children should have the right to determine what that means individually, removing books from the shelves is not today, and has never been, an acceptable course of action. ALA Director Barbara Jones puts it perfectly when she says, “Protecting one of our most fundamental rights—the freedom to read—means respecting each other’s differences and the right of all people to choose for themselves what they and their families read.”

We learn and are shaped as people by learning about subject matter that exposes us to the harsher (or truer) realities of life. Some of the most important things I have learned about, I learned from reading books just like these. Many people would be appalled that To Kill A Mockingbird is still on the top ten list. As EW’s Catherine Garcia points out, the objection that it incites racism misses the point entirely. But even books that legitimately tackle subjects that some parents would want to shield their children from are beneficial to us in a way that we may not even know to appreciate. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (#65) is about war, sure. But few other things convey the heartbreak, the magnitude and the ramifications of it the way O’Brien’s words do. It is more than just about war—it’s about people, individuals. And the lessons I took from it were complex, eye-opening, and, dare I say, good for me. As someone who read a whole lot of stuff that was age inappropriate (the first time I became fully aware of sex and attraction it was in Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes, #87, I was 8), I can say that I don’t believe I turned out any worse for it. I felt armed with knowledge that the world was a bigger place, with more for me to learn than I was able to wrap my head around. And personally, I rather enjoyed unwrapping those layers of ignorance; it is much like the satisfaction I feel when peeling away the skins of a tightly wrapped onion.

What about you, readers? Which of these books were you surprised to learn people are objecting to?

16 comments:

  1. How can a book be "anti-family"? Seriously?

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  2. I think it's actually a compliment to be on the list because I think most of the books are widely read/bestsellers (hence, there is a larger pool of potential objectors). There are plenty of books more offensive than To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye, but the objectors don't really know about them unless kids bring them home.

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  3. I can't say I'm surprised about 'Harry Potter' because I'd heard about the controversy, oh, any number of times. Still, I think it's ridiculous, and completely defeats its own purpose. Nothing gets people's attention like knowing a book's been banned. It makes you want it.

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  4. I guess number fourteen surprises me the most, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

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  5. I agree with Sangu. All they're doing is advertizing those books. I hope mine gets on that list too! Great company to be in.

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  6. There were many that surprised me. I recall some hoopla in my hometown in the mid-80s when Huckleberry Finn was banned at the local highschool, but I'd read it before it was banned.

    The book on the list that shocked me the most was Julie of the Wolves. I've read that book several times since I was a little girl. Even my mom read it when I was a kid and thought it was good. What is objectionable about it? Not that it matters, I guess. If someone wants to find something objectionable, they will. That doesn't make them right though.

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  7. I'm boggling at Julie of the Wolves too. Maybe the forced marriage aspect? Her husband does try to "mate" her, after all.

    I'm a little surprised about the Twilight nod (but really not, because everything gets challenged). Besides some making out, everything sexual fades to black and the protagonists wait until they're married, and I'd have figured the groups that usually protest sexually explicit books would sort of be happy about that. Ehh.

    As for the rest of the list, especially the books I love...well, sometimes controversy is the best publicity.

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  8. seriously who are the people who are complaining about these books? i mean there are so many classics on that list. not to mention the downright ridiculous- when my brother was a kid he read Captain Underpants- not a subtle witty book sure but it's for little boys. I really don't think i'd be able to stand the kind of people who complain about harry potter and holden caufield.

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  9. A friend of mine hated the Harry Potter books, claiming they promoted the occult.
    In the next breath, she bragged about her Halloween decorations that included witches and demon figures.

    Trying to understand people can drive a person crazy.

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  10. I'm embarrassed by the number of them I haven't read. Comes from having no children to educate me, I suppose.

    And that's what this is all about, isn't it? Fear of education? These are mostly great books--ones that make young people think--which is what some parents fear above all else. Children who think may slip out of parental control--become whole humans instead of puppets of the church or community that now controls them. Can't have that.

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  11. My husband and I were looking at the list this morning and we laughed about "Fahrenheit 451" (#69)...guess the people who wanted it banned didn't actually get the point of the book. I also couldn't believe "Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret" (#99) - I can remember being about 10 and reading/discussing it with my mom. And "And Tango Makes Three" - really? That was one of the sweetest books I've ever read.

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  12. I teach children's and YA lit to college students, and we talk about censorship a lot. Each semester we look at the ALA list, and I'm never surprised anymore by what I see on it. Dismayed, but not surprised. I'm also often dismayed by how many of my students support varying degrees of censorship, even here in "liberal" Massachusetts.

    Judy Blume's website has some really fantastic pieces that she's written about censorship. I love what you say about Tiger Eyes. It brings me back to fifth grade when my girlfriends and I passed around a copy of Forever, with all the juicy parts underlined in pink marker by my friend Pammi (i dotted with a heart, of course). I learned more about dating and sex in that book than in all of my health classes and sex ed filmstrips combined. I could just kiss Judy Blume right on the lips.

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  13. While our school library still has the books (so I don't think we make the list), we no longer teach To Kill a Mockingbird or Huck Finn because they both include the word 'n----r.' It annoys me, but there are sooo many other wonderful novels out there that I can live with teaching them instead. However, pulling books from the library, so that NOBODY can read them... that sucks.

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  14. I once successfully defended "Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher," a delightful middle-grade story, from an attempt to have it banned in our school district.
    Such people are superstitious, believing that a book is the equivalent of a powerful, evil spell. Thus they demonstrate little faith in the efficacy and strength of their own religious teachings.

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  15. Bridge To Terabithia and Snow Falling on Cedars...? I'm shocked and stunned. But The Kite Runner is the one that really amazes me. How could they?

    I'll make it a point to buy another copy of The Kite Runner.

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