From September 21st through the 27th, the American Libraries Association has
declared this “Banned Books Week.” They wish to encourage our freedom to read.
The ALA’s slogan for this week is, “Discover What You’re Missing.” I think it is so
important to remind people of how recently we had books destroyed, censored
and banned in our country.
In my opinion, books on any subject are meant to expand our world views. They
open our eyes where we may hold insulated views. Some have been protected,
kept safe and ‘closed off,’ from what is being presented in their community or
‘tribe’ (or family.)There are some who home school, some who don’t believe
in public news, some who wish that all offensive subjects not be mentioned to
or around their children. I respect their freedom to do so and they have valid
concerns. But they must also be careful for ‘what they wish for.’ After having
a protected Catholic roommate my sophomore year in college go, ‘haywire,’
with her sudden freedom. Also, knowing a relative who sent her 3 daughters to
a Christian college, only to have one get married to a Catholic, a Jewish man
and another to live with a man out of wedlock, I think one must be careful
about what kind of life you are presenting to your children and family.
By the way, just so you don’t misunderstand, I felt all three of these choices
were find and acceptable choices. It is just the fact the parents had tried to
prevent this ‘kind of thing,’ from happening, that I mention it at all.
Creating awareness of censorship and banning books may seem ‘foreign’ to
ones in their twenties who may live in a city where this has not recently
happened. Historically, it is no so far in the distant past, as one may think. It
is also part of many cultures’ and countries’ current practices. Awareness of
the dangers in such behavior, burning books, taking black markers and
removing words, opinions, and whole passages of different perspectives is
so important for everyone to recognize.
The definition of ‘ban’ that applies to this practice is defined as to prohibit
especially by legal means or social pressure some form of information.
Censure or condemning through public opinion.
The definition of ‘censor’ is to examine in order to suppress or delete
harmful or dangerous material.
The major problem in both banning and censoring is “Who is doing this?”
Who has the authority to choose what we are able to read, write or talk
The subjects of McCarthyism, Apartheid, Racial Issues and Governmental
Control are the ones that “leap to mind’ and produce a cold hand upon my
Do I think the military servicemen should have had their letters censored,
for fear of accidentally getting into the hands of our enemies? I would not
wish to make a decision that might cause death or infiltration of the enemy
in times of war.
Do I think that some subjects are ‘gross’ and upsetting to my mind? Yes,
but again, I would not wish to impose my thoughts upon others. I don’t
feel this would be fair or just behavior.
While teaching my first year of middle school, in 1979, I was in a small
town where the principal and the superintendent were from cities. They
said it was important to not feel that parents should dictate how their
students be taught. They made me feel comfortable about approaching
them with topics. Sixth grade Language Arts, along with English, Spelling
and Current Events were part of my instruction responsibilities. We had
team teaching, where the students moved from classroom to classroom.
Once I found out I was expecting my second child (my first miscarriage
had been the year before) I asked when it would be appropriate to tell
the students. We were going to be riding in a bus, in the winter months
to a swimming pool, I would be helping the kids to learn floating and
Life Saving techniques. I would be wearing a maternity bathing suit by
then. They suggested telling the parents in November and I listened to
their more experienced advice. We also were having Sex Ed discussions
in the Science classes. I was a little embarrassed as students would see
my belly expanding, but it turned out they loved getting in a line after
lunch in December to feel the baby move. Then, I would have them put
their heads down, as they rested and listened to the chapter book, “The
Yearling,” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
What books do I think of that have been banned? Without referring to
a list, I imagined “Clockwork Orange,” from my high school readings.
I pictured and remembered that the word, ‘nigger,’ was considered very
controversial and some schools and libraries during the Civil Rights
Movement, mistakenly removed the book, “Huckleberry Finn,” from
their book shelves. The third immediate ‘banned’ book I could think of,
was “The Scarlet Letter.”
Why ban “Clockwork Orange?” Graphic language, the governmental
control and the futuristic idea of mind control over a criminal. The main
character is injected, I believe if my memory serves me well, with something
that causes him to have pictures of violence and he suffers excruciating pain
from this. Why should we accept this book and not ban it? This is an intriguing
start to a whole new genre of books, which opened our minds to possibilities
and also, made us aware of the dangers of choosing how a criminal should be
punished. Do we have the right to do this? It can also be argued, do we have
the right to kill a man because he killed or committed dangerous acts. Our
legal world, with a ‘jury of our peers,’ makes those kind of powerful judgments.
Why ban “Huckleberry Finn?” I think fear of repercussions and misunderstandings
during a very dangerous, emotional period of our times. We can look at this
rationally, knowing the language was supposed to depict what was acceptable
during Mark Twain’s time. Why accept the book? Because it is an outstanding
story that does cross racial barriers and shows a black man and a young boy in
a fantastic piece of American literature. Their unique friendship and reliance
on each other shows a trust unexpected between two such characters, prior
to Mark Twain’s writing this book.
Why would “The Scarlet Letter,” which has a 19th century woman wearing a
red “A” across her chest be considered censorable? I think some would say
go ahead and promote this book. It holds their own judgments of the situation
on adultery. I am not sure if it is on the banned books list, which I had decided
when I set out to write this, that I would not ‘peek’ at the list until I finished my
opinions or had a chance to ‘editorialize.’ I think it may have been on the list
but would take it off, due to my determination that usually the WOMAN is
given the scarlet letter, not the man who was part of the couple engaged in
adultery. This is an antiquated viewpoint, but sadly this is still held in some
form or other, which is not the time nor place to talk about why this still goes
The Office of Intellectual Freedom gets reports and complaints. They usually
get the most “challenges” to freedom from the public wishing to ban books
after the Top 10 Book List is published.
Here are the Top 5 out of a list of Top 10 the OIF received after the 2013 Top Ten
List was published:
1. “Captain Underpants,” by Dav Pilkey.
The complaints were: Offensive language and unsuitable for age group.
2. “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison.
The complaints were: Offensive language, sexually explicit, violence and unsuitable for age group.
3. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian ,” by Sherman Alexie.
The complaints were: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit and
unsuitable for age group.
4. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James.
The complaints were: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoints, sexually explicit and
unsuitable for age group.
5. “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins.
The complaints were: Religious viewpoints and unsuitable for age group.
Hmm…I would have added violence possibly.
Overall, there are large numbers given on the official website of the Office of Intellectual Freedom
of the population that wish to restrict our reading materials.
The funny thing that someone in my life mentioned about censorship, I am
not quite sure who, but he asked this thought-provoking question:
What book has many adult themes within its pages, including adultery,
fornication and murdering one’s family members, but is considered
‘acceptable’ by those who wish to forbid and censor books?
(The Bible, he answered.)
What books came to mind, when I first started this post, that may be on past
banned books lists?
Nelson Mandela’s quotation seems apropos:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances
the freedom of others.”