Here’s to an Old-Fashioned Book Banning

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (happily abbreviated to the ABFFE) has compiled a list of banned and challenged books (that is, they were, or are in the process of being, challenged or actually banned this year).

Some were challenged or banned by school districts, some by retailers, some by public libraries. For each book in the list, there’s a link to read the details of who’s doing the challenging and why.

Jenna Jameson’s autobiographical “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” made the list, thanks to the mayor of Houston, who had decided that it should be kept behind the counter of the public library until further review. The Reviewers decided, strangely enough, to put it with the other biographies. (Not that it ever physically went behind the counter, since “it has been in constant circulation for months and as of mid-February had a waiting list of 41 patrons.”)

Less amusingly, the list also includes these titles:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Lords of Discipline

To Kill a Mockingbird: One of the mothers was “stunned” that this book was on the shelves. “She acknowledged she hadn’t read the entire book, but strongly felt if it had the word “nigger” in it, it shouldn’t be used in schools.”

I’m thinking, “hadn’t read the entire book” means, “flipped through it to find the words she didn’t like.”

The Hot Zone

The Catcher in the Rye

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Black Boy

And more!

Mostly, “foul” language, sexual content, and racial epithets were the offensive bits. Surprise.

One book, “On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God” apparently had no offensive content at all, except for the title! A father of a student thought the book itself was fine, but that the title “could influence girls to enter relationships with older men that might result in statutory rape.”

Why he didn’t think it might influence them to enter a relationship with the actual god, Eros, I have no idea.

I guess I should give my opinion in black and white, so here it is:

Quit banning books from public libraries.

Having said that, it’s not as easy to decide what should go on school library shelves, and even more so, what should be required reading for young students. But as I read more of the reasons for removing these books, I keep saying the same things to myself.

Things such as, “but that’s how they talked back then.” Or, “but kids need to know about this stuff.” Or, “everyone has these thoughts, shouldn’t we let them know that they’re not freaks?” Or, “they talk this way themselves; isn’t it a good idea to use their language?”

One of the complaints about Mockingbird, for example, was that the language made a student “uncomfortable.”

GOOD! It should make you feel uncomfortable. That’s a good thing. That book made me uncomfortable as hell, because I grew up in a house where words like “nigger” were inconceivable. Reading about them being casually spoken was a shock. But shouldn’t we be shocked and discomforted by racism?

In the end, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone was ever really damaged from reading a book. But I know for sure that people have suffered for not reading books. And if the books in the libraries aren’t compelling and relevant to kids, then we’ll keep seeing it.

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