Happy Banned Books Week everyone!
It’s hard for me to believe that we are still challenging and banning books in the United States of the 21st century. The sad fact that this behavior occurs at such a rate to warrant a full week devoted to anti-book banning awareness is a bit shocking, really. Is this the Inquisition knocking on our door? Are we standing in the Bebelplatz in Berlin? Is this Mao’s Cultural Revolution? No, this is 2009 Obam-America, yet we are still challenging the literary value of Toni Morrison, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, John Gardner, Aldous Huxley, and The Kite Runner (all challenged in the last year).
Even though we have lived through Vietnam, September 11th, South African Apartheid, Britney Spears shaving her head, and countless other atrocities across the globe, we are somehow still shocked by The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, even though every high school student in America has been assigned to read both of them since the 1960’s. Harper Lee is not racially insensitive (try the opposite) and Salinger is not a pornographic pervert, at least as far as I know. Harry Potter is not an advertisement for the occult and Philip Pullman is a children’s book author, not an anti-Catholic hate-mongerer (at least not publicly). And Harold Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is not “un-American, leftist propaganda”. C'mon, people, lighten up.
My point is simple: You are free to read anything you want - this is a basic, fundamentally democratic freedom that we enjoy. Ignore all this hatred and ignorance and go out and read one of these banned books. There have been over 10,000 formal challenges to printed works since 1990 - with over 500 last year alone. These challenges, while often overturned by rational school boards and sane libraries who recognize the folly of banning A Brave New World, seek to not just remove books from classroom curriculums, but to remove them from public shelves - in effect, censoring them from viewing. Nine of the top ten greatest novels of the 20th century (according to the Radcliffe Publishing Course panel) have been challenged or banned at some point in their published lives - 42 of their top 100. It’s almost as if a book isn’t worth reading unless it pushes the envelope somehow….