This very question was posed to me today by a co-worker of mine, and while at the time I was surprised that she didn’t know, I also realized that a lot of people probably don’t know that books are still being banned in schools and libraries. Because banning a book in the 21st century seems so…I don’t know…20th century. Like something your grandparents lived through. But no…banning books is still alive and well in the year 2011, and in celebration of Banned Books Week, I’m here to talk about what’s being banned, why it’s being banned, and why banning books is stupid and ignorant.
First off, what is a banned book? According to About.com, “A banned book is one that has been removed from the shelves of a library, bookstore, or classroom because of its controversial content. In some cases, banned books of the past have been burned and/or refused publication. Possession of banned books has at times been regarded as an act of treason or heresy, which was punishable by death, torture, prison time, or other acts of retribution”. In other words, if someone of a highly sensitive nature picks up a book and sees the word “drugs” or “sex” or “monkey” in it, they gather their other highly sensitive friends, march to the school or library, and demand the book be burned.
Okay, well, book burning isn’t as prevalent nowadays as it used to be back in Nazi times. Most of the crazies just demand that the book be taken out of the school or library. But just because book burning isn’t common doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Take what happened in Michigan in 2003. Two pastors “took a stand against sorcery” by burning a Harry Potter book outside of their church. And get this!!!! The dude didn’t even read the book!!! He claimed that the cover alone showed him it promoted wizardry and was attached to the occult.
This obviously happens in places other than Michigan; it happens all over the country. The Office of Intellectual Freedom has been collecting data on banned books since 1990, but it’s obvious banning books has been happening for ages. They release a “Frequently Challenged Books” list every year, and some of the books that were on the list twenty years ago still appear on the list today.
So, what are these books? Is it no surprise that Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn appears on the list every year because of some objectionable words? Or Judy Blume’s Forever (which I’m pretty sure every teen girl has read at least once) continues to be banned due to sexual content? To be honest, I’m not surprised. Because people – and when I say “people” I mean parents, because they continue to be the most common initiator of banning books – are still afraid to be leaders. Instead of educating kids and teens on these topics so they can make their own smart decisions, they think they’ll be safer by just taking the book off the shelves. Like that’s the really going to stop them from dealing with these issues!! Like Donna Martin said on Beverly Hills, 90210: “Even if you build a fence around the pool, they’re still going to find a way in.”
Now, I won’t go through every single book that has been banned since 1990, as that would take hours and tons of computer space. So I’ll just highlight what’s going in the world of banned books today and talk about what books made the list this year. Some may surprise you, some may not. I just hope it makes you aware. *
*I don’t agree with any of these.
#10 – Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Bet you didn’t know you this book is actually about Evil Mormon Vampires.
#9 – Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
An anthology of prose, poetry, artwork, letters,and diaries about gays and lesbians? This is a shoo-in.
#8 – Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Because nothing says “Ban Me” quite like minimum wage.
#7 – What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
I bet she doesn’t know that you’re reading sexually explicit material!
#6 – Lush by Natasha Friend
Teen angst, an alcoholic parent, and growing boobs. Off the shelves!
#5 – The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Teens killing each other to win a reality show competition? How did this even get published?
#4 – Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Meth poetry. ‘Nuff said.
#3 – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Anti-religion and anti-family makes you evil and anti-human.
#2 – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Ignore the National Book Award Winner sticker. It’s filled with nothing but offensive language, racism, and violence.
AND THE NUMBER ONE BANNED BOOK – FOR THE 5TH YEAR IN A ROW – GOES TO:
And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Cute, fluffy, adorable penguins. Who are totally gay.
I suppose you’re wondering, “How can I stop this unnecessary banning?” “How do I to get the word out?” “What can I do to help keep these books on the shelves?” Well, when it comes to the government making these decisions, there’s probably not much you can do legally. But what you can do is go to your local library – most libraries have special Banned Books setups during Banned Books Week – and check out one those these ten books, or any book that has ever been challenged. R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books were crazy popular in the 1990s – and also some of the most banned. Pick up a few and read them to your kids. Feel like reading a classic? I’m sure you can find a copy of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Whatever banned book you want to read, don’t be ashamed to read it. Just remember this:
Happy (Banned Book) Reading!