Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger
Banned Books Weeks 2011 will be observed September 24-October 1.
Jonah Goldberg claims that Banned Books Week (BBW) is nothing but hype. In a column he penned for USA Today in early September, Goldberg wrote that BBW “is an exercise in propaganda.” He continued, “For starters, as a legal matter no book in America is banned, period, full stop (not counting, I suppose, some hard-core illegal child porn or some such out there). Any citizen can go to a bookstore or Amazon.com and buy any book legally in print — or out of print for that matter.”
Evidently, Goldberg thinks that books which have been removed from the shelves of public and school libraries “due to pressure from someone who isn’t a librarian or a teacher” don’t count as “banned books.” He appears to believe they can only be considered banned books if they have been banned on a national level. So what if books are removed from school and public libraries? One can always get a copy at a book store or from Amazon.com. Right?
Goldberg got into the numbers of challenged books to demonstrate how “overhyped” stories about banned books are. He wrote that reported challenges had dropped from 513 in 2008 to 348 in 2010—and that the “historic norm is a mere 400 to 500 bans or challenges” a year. He said there are almost 100,00 public schools in this country educating approximately 50 million students—as well as 33,000 private schools and 10,000 public libraries. According to Goldberg’s math—if there were “500 parent-driven ‘bans or challenges’ in a given year in public schools, that would mean for every 200 public schools, or every 100,000 students, at least one parent even complained about an age-inappropriate book. What an epidemic!”
Reported challenges…a mere 400 to 500 bans or challenges…only one book challenge per 100,000 students. What’s the fuss all about? Why should people be concerned? Maybe the American Library Association, public libraries, and schools in this country should only begin to worry when the censorship, challenging, and banning of books becomes an epidemic. Why address the problem when the numbers are so small?
Well, one could conclude that many book challenges aren’t reported. As noted on the ALA website: “We do not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges as research suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five that go unreported.” And I have little doubt that there are many librarians, teachers, readers, and defenders of the First Amendment who feel that an historic norm of 400 to 500 challenges a year are a few hundred too many.
I have to wonder at Goldberg’s motives for writing his column. Was it so he could get in a dig at teachers’ unions? Here’s what he wrote about them:
“These days, teachers unions are fond of claiming that apathetic parents deserve more of the blame for the woeful state of education today. Maybe so. But a national policy of bullying parents interested in what their kids are reading hardly seems like the best way to encourage them. Indeed, from these numbers, the real scandal might be that so few books are “banned or challenged.’”
I’m not sure how Goldberg drew the conclusion that there is a “national policy” of bullying parents who are interested in what their children read. He didn’t provide any proof that there was. And why would Goldberg suggest that the real scandal is that so few books are being banned or challenged? Does he think that more books should be banned and challenged every year?
Molly Raphael, President of the American Library Association, responded to Goldberg’s column. She wrote:
“When a library removes a book from its shelves because someone disapproves of the ideas or opinions contained in the book, that is censorship. When it is done by publicly funded schools and libraries — government agencies — it is a violation of the First Amendment.”
Raphael said we should remember that when a book is removed from a library it is an act of censorship that affects an entire community—not just one individual or one family. She also said that public libraries “serve everyone, including those who are too young or too poor to buy their own books or own a computer.” She added that the reason librarians and library users celebrate BBW is as “a testament to the strength of our freedom in the United States. We celebrate the freedom to read because we all know that we are so fortunate to live in a country that protects our freedom to choose what we want to read. If you doubt this, just ask anyone from a totalitarian society. That is why we draw attention to acts of censorship that chill the freedom to read.”
Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
You may kill him — another will be born.
Deeds and words shall be recorded.
~ Czeslaw Milosz, Poland
The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire. Osip Mandelstam died in a Stalinist work camp, but his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. Federico García Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain’s Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but his poetry has survived that tyrannical regime.
We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight.
~ Salman Rushdie, 19 April 2011
Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010 (Out of 348 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom)
- And Tango Makes Three*, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
- Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexually explicit
- Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
- Lush, by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
- What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
- Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint
- Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality and sexually explicit
- Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence
(*And Tango Makes Three is a picture book.)
Sources and Further Reading
Column: Banned Books Week is just hype (USA Today)
Banned Books Week celebrates freedom to read (USA Today)
Banned Books Week 2011 (Amnesty International)
The 11 Most Surprising Banned Books (PHOTOS, POLL) (Huffington Post)
Letter re: Slaughterhouse Five Ban in Republic, MO (National Coalition Against Censorship)
First Lady Laura Bush Cancels Poetry Gathering Fearing Anti-War Poems: Democracy Now! Hosts Its Own Poetry Slam with Def Poetry Jam Stars Staceyann Chin, Suheir Hammad and Steve Colman (Democracy Now, 2/7/2003)
Other Turley Blog Posts on the Censorship, Challenging, and Banning of Books