Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beware of the Book

Did you know that last week was "Banned Books Week"? Ironically, I spent part of it surrounded by books and those who love them at the trade show for the New England Independent Booksellers Association convention. There was no talk there about banning books in Hartford, CT, I assure you.

Nonetheless, it does my heart good as a writer and a bibliophile to know we live in a country where we have something like "Banned Books Week" to celebrate the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. By listing books that have been banned, or "challenged" in an attempt to force their removal from library or school bookshelves, the American Library Association and other groups are trying to highlight the danger of putting restraints on information in a free society.

The ALA recorded 513 "challenges" to books in 2008, but estimates the number reflects only 20-25% of actual incidents, as most are never reported. People try to block books for a multitude of reasons, but the most frequent seem to be concerns the books are too sexual, too violent, contain objectionable profanity and slang, include offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups -- or positively portray gays. Apparently there is less concern about intellectual freedom.
I'm proud to say that from looking at the ALA's interactive map, it appears no challenges were recorded in New Hampshire between 2007 and 2009, but that should come as no surprise to those of us who reside in the "Live Free or Die" state.

It's interesting to note that some of the notable books that have been banned, or challenged, over the years include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Charlotte's Web, Harry Potter books, The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye and Winnie-the-Pooh. Some authors today consider it a compliment to have their books on the same lists as these classics.
Here's the list of the 10 most challenged titles from 2008. How many of them were you even aware of before today?
And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, is a 2005 children's book about two male penguins who raise an orphaned chick. It's topped the list of banned challenged books for three years running. It's based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins in New York's Central Park Zoo, who for six years formed a couple and then were given an egg to raise.

The reasons given for attempts to block the book: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group. Ironically, book sales seem to increase when it makes the list.

His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman, undoubtedly got more challenges following the 2007 release of the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first entry in his Young Adult heroic fantasy series. The others are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence

TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle, part of the wildly successful Internet Girls series for young adults. The online chat trilogy, which began with ttyl in 2004, features exchanges between three girls.
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz, includes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark (1984), and Scary Stories 3 : More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991), for ages 9-12.
Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence

Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya, is an award-winning coming-of-age novel of young boy in New Mexico in the 1940s. It has sold more than 300,000 copies in paperback since its 1973 debut.
Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, and violence

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, is a Young Adult novel published in 1999 about a high school freshman boy teetering on the brink of adulthood.
Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group

Gossip Girl (Young Adult series), by Cecily von Ziegesar. From the synopsis on Amazon: "Is Gossip Girl one of New York City's privileged teens with easy access to endless money, alcohol, and drugs? The answer remains a well-kept secret, but her Web page that opens each chapter (and that readers can visit) tells all about the in-crowd. Catty, backbiting, and exaggerated, GG's observations are also candid."
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen, is a 2008 children's book about a same-sex marriage between two dapper guinea pigs.
Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini and published in 2004, tells a story of betrayal and redemption featuring Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant, while providing an eye-opening account of Afghanistan's political turmoil.
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper, is for ages 9-12 and about a teenager whose aunt sends her a set of blank cards called Flashcards of My Life that include topics like "Friends," "Kiss" and "Identity" to spark her writing.
Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group
To see more lists of books that have been challenged, click on the links here. What's your favorite challenged/banned book?

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