Friday, September 23, 2011

Go Ask ALA

Tomorrow begins Banned Books Week, which was started in 1982 by the American Library Association (ALA). It is always the last week of September. The week is intended to call attention to ongoing efforts to defend against censorship in libraries.

With all the electronic media about which to fuss these days, you might think concerned parents would have lost sight of libraries. You’d be wrong. School and public libraries remain under constant pressure to ban books, or at least to age-segregate them more rigorously. Organizations such as Family Friendly Libraries object to Banned Books Week itself for belittling "requests made by citizens in local libraries for books to be relocated to a section aimed at older readers or removed due to objectionable content."

I trust the “or removed” did not go unnoticed. The ALA keeps count of objections from parents and parents’ groups, and publishes lists of the books that receive the most complaints. The Top Ten list varies from year to year, but the reasons for the objections remain pretty constant: sexual content, homosexuality, insensitivity in matters of race or gender, religious viewpoint, and offensive language. For 2010 (the most recent available year) the Top Ten targets were these (Source: ALA website):

1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
7. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

The Top Fifty most targeted classics were the following:

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
13. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
21. Heart of Darkness by Josphe Conrad
22. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
34. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
35. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
37. The World According to Garp by John Irving
38. All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
39. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
41. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
42. The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton
43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
44. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
47. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum
48. Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

Forty-two of these were on my required reading list in high school.

I’ll concede that there is a place for children’s sections of libraries and that librarians need a modicum of common sense when stocking them. But the major issue is really “reading level.” The lists make it clear that the broader stacks are being targeted, too.

Of the Top Ten for 2010, I’ve read only Brave New World (a high school freshman assignment, as I recall). The other nine were published well after my tween-time, but is even one of them actually inappropriate? Judging from Huxley, I doubt it. Should it be banned if it were? The banning itself surely is more inappropriate (as an act and as a lesson) than anything in the book could be.

As for Hemingway, Faulkner, and Orwell, I’d high-five any 10-year-old who sought them out and read them. I’d recommend him or her for a scholarship.

So, be a rebel this week: read a library book.

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