Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Upcoming: Banned Books Week and the National Book Festival, 2008

"Celebrating the Freedom to Read," Banned Books Week runs September 27th to October 4th this year. Starting on September 27th as well is the eighth annual National Book Festival, taking place on the National Mall. Presented by the Library of Congress and Laura Bush, over 70 authors will be participating, and the website will post podcasts of events. I'll also promote the wonderful, ongoing Favorite Poem Project yet again.

The American Library Association has a page on Banned Book Events, including a page for events by state (at least one listed event appears to be from 2007 or else there's a typo, so you may wish to confirm an event before attending). There are official Facebook and MySpace groups for Banned Books Week, and you can also find several "I Read Banned Books" groups. Apparently, there will even be Banned Books Week activities in Second Life (details forthcoming on the website). Children's author Sam Riddleburger shows how you can use an online motivational poster generator to make your own "Read" posters. (Continuing on the lighter side, The Onion has a piece called "Nation's Teens Disappointed by Banned Books.")

[Update 9/26/08: More information on Banned Books Week activities for Second Life, and the Facebook and MySpace groups.]

I'll also invite any and all bloggers to a very informal blogswarm on banned books and intellectual freedom. Feel free to link your post(s) in the comments, or shoot me an e-mail, if you'd like.

I write a little post for Banned Books Week every year, but this year the subject's been, well, more on my mind. Banned Books Week is a fine time to celebrate "Biblio-Americans" and all those teachers, librarians, parents, siblings and friends who may have introduced us to a great book or the joy of reading. It's a great excuse to revisit a favorite book or read a new one – especially a banned one. It's a nice way to share a favorite book with someone else, or start a conversation about why a challenged book such as 1984, The Great Gatsby or The Color Purple means so much. That's not to mention books banned in other countries currently or throughout history. One of my favorite novels, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, was initially published in the Soviet Union only in censored form, but the original was one of many works passed around between friends clandestinely (and illegally) in Samizdat form. (The excellent 2006 film The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) portrays a similar dynamic in East Germany in the 80s.)

Personally, I draw the most inspiration from hearing tales like that, and by reading over the lists of the many books challenged over the years – it's venerable company. To that effect, from the Frequently Challenged Books page, here's:

The most frequently challenged books of 2007

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 420 challenges last year. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. According to Judith F. Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges reflects only incidents reported, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.

The "10 Most Challenged Books of 2007" reflect a range of themes, and consist of the following titles:

1) "And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2) "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3) "Olive's Ocean," by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4) "The Golden Compass," by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5) "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6) "The Color Purple," by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7) "TTYL," by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8) "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9) "It's Perfectly Normal," by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10) "The Perks of Being A Wallflower," by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Off the list this year, are two books by author Toni Morrison. "The Bluest Eye" and "Beloved," both challenged for sexual content and offensive language.

The most frequently challenged authors of 2007

1) Robert Cormier
2) Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
3) Mark Twain
4) Toni Morrison
5) Philip Pullman
6) Kevin Henkes
7) Lois Lowry
8) Chris Crutcher
9) Lauren Myracle
10) Joann Sfar

To add some perspective, here's the:

Most Challenged Books of 21st Century (2000-2005)

1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
2. "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier
3. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
4. "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck
5. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
6. "Fallen Angels" by Walter Dean Myers
7. "It's Perfectly Normal" by Robie Harris
8. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
9. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
10. "Forever" by Judy Blume

Meanwhile, I find the following list the most interesting (follow the link for explanations on why they were challenged; I've changed the order slightly):

Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Ulysses, James Joyce
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
1984, George Orwell
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Lolita, Vladmir Nabokov
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Native Son, Richard Wright
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley's Lover, DH Lawrence
Sons and Lovers, DH Lawrence
Women in Love, DH Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run, John Updike

My all-time favorite might still be Dr. Seuss' The Lorax being challenged for being pro-environment and anti-corporate (I'd have to dig up the exact language from an older hard copy report).

Unfortunately, not all the ALA links are up to date, and a few 'banned book list' pdfs are missing, but the site's still very useful overall. The American Library Association also has a "suggested editorial" that can be adapted for local libraries. I think good, original op-eds have more style, but this does cover banned book issues nicely and may give some inspiration:

Suggested Editorial

Edit and adapt this opinion column "Elect to Read a Banned Book" for your local newspaper. Include the name, address, telephone number and credentials of the person submitting (library director, president of library board, trustee, school/campus administrator, community activist, etc.).

Elect to Read a Banned Book

Throughout the country, most children are starting a new academic year. Teachers are sending out their lists of required readings, and parents are beginning to gather books. In some cases, classics like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Catcher in the Rye," and "To Kill a Mocking Bird," may not be included in curriculum or available in the school library due to challenges made by parents or administrators.

Since 1990, the American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has recorded more than 7,800 book challenges, including 458 in 2003. A challenge is a formal, written complaint requesting a book be removed from library shelves or school curriculum. About three out of four of all challenges are to material in schools or school libraries, and one in four are to material in public libraries. OIF estimates that less than one-quarter of challenges are reported and recorded.

It is thanks to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, and students that most challenges are unsuccessful and reading materials like "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," "Slaughterhouse Five," the Harry Potter series, and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series, which topped OIF's most challenged list in 2003 and ended the four-year reign of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, remain available.

The most challenged and/or restricted reading materials have been books for children. However, challenges are not simply an expression of a point of view; on the contrary, they are an attempt to remove materials from public use, thereby restricting the access of others. Even if the motivation to ban or challenge a book is well intentioned, the outcome is detrimental. Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves. For children, decisions about what books to read should be made by the people who know them best—their parents!

In support of the right to choose books freely for ourselves, the ALA and [Name of Library] are sponsoring Banned Books Week (September 25 - October 2, 2004), an annual celebration of our right to access books without censorship. This year's observance is themed "Elect to Read a Banned Book," and commemorates the most basic freedom in a democratic society—the freedom to read freely—and encourages us not to take this freedom for granted.

Since its inception in 1982, Banned Books Week has reminded us that while not every book is intended for every reader, each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what to read, listen to or view. [Name of library] and thousands of libraries and bookstores across the country will celebrate the freedom to read by participating in special events, exhibits, and read-outs that showcase books that have been banned or threatened. The [name of library] will be hosting the following activities: [List activities, displays, presentations, read-outs of favorite banned books etc. with date, time and location.]

The American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the ALA; the American Society of Journalists and Authors; the Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores sponsor Banned Books Week. The Library of Congress Center for the Book endorses the observance.

American libraries are the cornerstones of our democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. Because libraries provide free access to a world of information, they bring opportunity to all people. Now, more than ever, celebrate the freedom to read @ your library! Elect to read an old favorite or a new banned book this week.

Finally, from the Intellectual Freedom Issues page:

"Intellectual Freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas."— Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A

"Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."—Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas," The One Un-American Act," Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1 (Jan. 1953): p. 20.

"[F]reedom of expression and the free flow of information, to which it is closely linked, are the essential conditions of the emergence of knowledge societies."— "Towards Knowledge Societies," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Report.

So get to reading! Get to, um, talking about reading! And remember - Manuscripts Don't Burn.

Update: Blue Gal passes on "The Big Read" from the National Endowment for the Arts. It's a project to "restore reading to the center of American culture." You can see their current highlighted books here, and also check to see if there's a Big Read event in your community. Many communities and libraries also have book discussion groups, of course, but this looks like a fantastic way to supplement and energize those. It's also a great excuse to read some good books you may never have gotten around to reading (because as the old joke goes, we buy books pretending we are also buying the time to read them).

Update 9/26/08: The ALA completely reworked their site a few days after my post, which broke all my links. The design looks better, though. I've gone back through and I believe I've fixed all links. I've also written them about some typos and old information still listed. Do confirm a Banned Books Week event before attending, but it appears the events by state page is mostly if not entirely up to date now. Celebrate reading, especially banned and challenged books!

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


JC said...

I went to a catholic high school, which some people might think of as some awful bastion of repression. However, I'll maintain to this day that I was exposed to a greater variety of viewpoints (social, political, and religious) at that school than anywhere else in my life.

In any case, when I was a Junior, we read Catch-22, a book that was banned a few times back in the day, and shows up on the challenge list every once and a while. That was the first book I ever read in school that I ever truly loved. After that, I stopped reading Tom Clancy, and started reading literature.

If anyone hasn't read it yet, go out and get a copy. It's just as relevant now as it was when it was published in 1961.

Comrade Kevin said...

From having grown up with a mother who taught English, I have to say that the people who complain about these books usually have too much money and not enough sense.

thepoetryman said...

Notice the trend in the banned book list? Sex, Homosexual, sexually explicit, religiously offensive, offensive language.

Sex is sinning! Homosexual is sinning! Explicit sex is sinning! Religious offensiveness is blashpemy! And cursing is offensive to the devout!

Abstinence education-
Gay conversion-
Explicit abstinence education-
Offend not God (The Christian God)-
Thou shalt not curse-

The bible might soon find itself on the list... I suppose it depends on who compiles the list, eh?

darkblack said...

Banning books is the surest way to create employment in the public service sector.


sharon said...

Thanks for putting all this info in one place - I'm sending the link to my daughter,who teaches theatre and english in Arizona. She is forever running into the banning issue, if not in fact certainly in the atmosphere. And I am really pleased to see your reference to Master and Margarita. I found that book by accident in the 70's and have read it several times since. But I didn't really appreciate it until a trip to Russia last year. Nothing overt, but there is a scent of the past even in the present.

Clay Burell said...

Nice idea. I'll bite with a post I wrote several months ago, "Fear-Based Curriculum: A Language Arts Tragedy (or, Why We Should Teach Lolita in High School)".

And for good measure, a current series on Stephen Mitchell's Gilgamesh translation called"Unsucky English Lectures 1: On Gilgamesh and Dangerous Questions". Gilgamesh has slipped past the ideaphobe radar so far, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it come under attack because of this version.

Bob Broughton said...

I think that Sarah Palin should be crowned Queen of this year's Banned Books Week.

And, my favourite banned book of the ones mentioned here is To Kill a Mockingbird.

libhom said...

Thanks for bringing up Banned Books Week.