Monday, September 25, 2006

It's Banned Books Week!

An interesting quote from the American Library Association web site:

In his book Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, Nat Hentoff writes that “the lust to suppress can come from any direction.” He quotes Phil Kerby, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, as saying, “Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.”

As a rule, I'm horrified by censorship, but I do understand where Kerby and Hentoff are coming from. There are at least a few people who would make me very happy by taking a flying leap off my universe and never bothering me with their insane natterings again (Ann Coulter, I'm staring at you.). While I don't think of that as censorship--more like a public service--I guess it is. Something to think about.

And if we're discussing censorship, either the flag-burning amendment is up again, or it's Banned Books Week. In this case (I'm sure the title of this post provided a big clue), it's the latter.

When I worked at Barnes & Noble, I always loved Banned Books Week. (I almost made that an acronym, but then I realized that big beautiful women everywhere owned that one.) Probably on orders from the New York office, one of the B&N managers would set up a table in the front of the store covered with books that had been banned in the past, along with a sign proclaiming what to us was a major holiday. We'd all talk with each other and with customers about what banned books we'd read, shaking our heads and lamenting the collective insanity that often accompanies library censorship.

I'm no longer a bookseller, but in honor of the start of Banned Books Week today, I went through the lists of banned and challenged (i.e. not yet banned) books on both the American Booksellers' Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the American Library Association (ALA). Here's what I found:

Most Surprising Choice:
Where's Waldo, by Martin Hanford
Yes, THAT Waldo. Unfortunately, Waldo was listed on the ALA site, which does not explain why the bans or challenges occurred, unlike the ABFFE. WHAT is so wrong with a picture book that has kids finding a little cartoon guy in a big cartoon crowd? What did Waldo ever do to you, people? Anyone who would try to ban Waldo would probably find something objectionable in his or her DVD player instruction manual and should just not read anything. Ever.

My Favorite Book on the List: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. (Challenged by an eighth grader in California and a high school principal in Alaska for racial slurs and the depiction of an attempted rape.)

In honor of Latin-American History Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), books on the list by Latinos: Paula, by Isabel Allende
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, by Julia Alvarez
Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High, by Alex Sanchez

I can't reproduce every book on these lists without making this entry way too long, but just to give you an idea of what's on them, here are the
banned and challenged books from the ABFFE list that I've read:

Paula, by Isabel Allende
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, by Julia Alvarez
The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Deenie, by Judy Blume (Man, I never did read Forever)
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy
Krik? Krak!, by Edwidge Danticat
Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
Hot Zone, by Richard Preston
Freaky Friday, by Mary Rodgers
Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
The Entire Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling
The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
America! (The Book), by Jon Stewart
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Black Boy, by Richard Wright

And the books I've read from the ALA's top 100 challenged books list (that weren't on the ABFFE list):
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A Wrinkle in TIme, by Madeleine L'Engle
Blubber, by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The Outsiders, by SE Hinton
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Native Son, by Richard Wright
Carrie, by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
How to Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree, by Willo Davis Roberts

Interesting how many of these books are for young adults, and how many of them that I've read count among the most vibrant, memorable, and edifying books I've read in my life. Do your part for free speech. Read a banned book this week!


Tom said...

What about Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, banned by my sister?

Tracy Montoya said...

Yes, but that was because Mary Ann's transformation from steam shovel to furnace was a LITTLE too much like a sex change for my taste. Gotta keep those transgendered steam shovels from influencing innocent young minds.

Jen said...

LOL. I had no idea that some of these were banned.
"Are you There God, It's Me Margaret" was a favorite of mine.
"Like Water For Chocolate" is fabulous!
And "To Kill A Mockingbird" is one of my favs.
Isn't it interesting? Of course, there was a time I thought James Joyce should be banned for being boring.
Great post Tracy. I think I'll go read some of these.

Tracy Montoya said...

I love Judy Blume, Jen--every one I read, especially Margaret, Blubber, and Deenie.

But SEE how you wanted to "censor" Joyce? : D Maybe Hentoff is right, and censoring IS a bigger urge than sex!

Anonymous said...

I have read most of these books. Isabel Allende books were given to me by my Spanish teacher in high school. Some of the others were required reading: The Outsiders, To Kill a Mockingbird, Flowers for Algernon, and Of Mice and Men. A Wrinkle in Time is one of my favorites as well as The Color Purple which I know most of the word to.

One of my best memories is my teacher Ms. Bowen in 6th grade English reading the book to us and she did all of the voices.

It is bad that people have nothing better to do with their day than try to ban books. (Have these people never heard of freedom of speech) Rape, racism, and murder; these things are not pretty but they happen everyday.

These books are what make me the reader I am today. I love to read and I thankful that these people had the fortitude to write the truth.

Sorry for the rant

Tracy Montoya said...

No apology necessary, Anon. I feel the same way. People who have to sanitize the classics aren't going to have very interesting or powerful stories left to read.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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