They Ban Books, Don’t They?

(Ethan Gates)– Every time I read a story about book banning, it reminds me of the Amherst Spring Concert: everyone you know seems to agree that it’s a pretty bad idea, everyone except a few fierce advocates says we should get rid of it, and then every year boom there it is again.

The American Library Association recently released their 2012 State of America’s Libraries report, which as always included quite a bit of information about attempts to ban books at various libraries across the country. In 2011, the ALA received 326 reports regarding attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves. They also listed the “Top 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011,” the titles that were most regularly requested for removal, along with the reasons given for challenging these books:

  1. “ttyl” (and rest of series) by Lauren Myracle – offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. “The Color of Earth” by Kim Dong Hwa – nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. “The Hunger Games” trilogy – by Suzanne Collins – anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. “My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy” by Dori Hillestad Butler – nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie – offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. “Alice” (and rest of series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley – insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. “What My Mother Doesn’t Know” by Sonya Sones – nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. “Gossip Girl” (and rest of series) by Cecily von Ziegesar – drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee – offensive language; racism

I positively spluttered when I read this list. There are STILL people trying to ban “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Brave New World”???? After how many decades? For what? “Racism?” THAT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE. Part of the entire point of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is to encourage people to NOT BE RACIST. Is that what they’re objecting to? That there isn’t ENOUGH racism?

Notice how the movie was filmed so that Atticus' head is up with the black people in the balcony, rather than the racist white people below? That shit wasn't accidental.

Same thing for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Sherman Alexie is one of my absolute favorite authors. If you like short stories, go read “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven,” right now. And guess what? He’s Native American. Are people accusing him of being racist towards himself? I don’t understand.

I also don’t understand why the youth fiction fad of the moment is always a target for such virulent criticism. Look again at the reasons listed for challenging Suzanne Collins’ books – I don’t think whoever filed those complaints even bothered to write new ones, they just erased “Harry Potter” and wrote in “Hunger Games” (for god’s sake, at least there were wizards and witches in “Harry Potter,” how in the world is “The Hunger Games” occult/satanic??). More importantly, how have the “Twilight” books avoided these challenges?

Not that "The Hunger Games" didn't have its fair share of temptation for everyone.

All right. Now that I’ve vented a little bit, let’s look at this seriously. Obviously, book banning in any form is a problem, and a pretty clear violation of freedom of speech if you ask me. But it’s actually very intriguing/encouraging that essentially all of these books are for children or youth – besides “sexually explicit” and “offensive language,” the most common issue cited is “unsuited for age group,” a complaint that is implicit in pretty much all the reasons listed, really. The battleground over literature is pretty much exclusively now taking place in school libraries and curricula. When it comes to adult literature, one assumes, anything goes.

That’s a good thing, and a step forward for a country where entire cities and states were banning books like “Fanny Hill,” “Catch-22,” “Howl,” “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” and “Naked Lunch” not all that long ago. Moving to “unsuited for age group” from “unsuited for anyone” is very, very slow progress. And most people can understand the motivation behind “unsuited for age group -” it’s true that for any child, there are books (or movies, or TV shows, or music, or whatever) that they are simply not ready to consume.

Hell, there are things that I'M still not emotionally ready to consume.

But the responsibility of drawing that line should not fall on the libraries. It should fall to parents to make sure that their own children are reading material appropriate to their abilities and maturity. These attempts to make public institutions like libraries and schools enforce certain parenting choices are invasive and, frankly, come off to me as an attempt to shirk personal responsibility. Worry about your own kids, and let other people worry about theirs.

And when it comes to school syllabi – get over it. You lost the fight over “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the 1960’s. Let’s move on.